I was born on the Yakima Indian Reservation in Washington State and my early childhood was spent treading water in a cesspool of racism and alcoholic desperation. I spent the fifth grade in Abilene Texas which was then part of the segregated South and I had my first experiences with Black/White segregation and Southerner vs Northerner animosity. After Abilene, the remainder of my childhood was spent in bland blond Southern California. I was segregated/expelled from the Orange Glen Elementary school for refusing to conform to the local dress code. I expressed my adolescent angst through poetry, growing hair, playing drums, acting, and writing plays. When I was sixteen I dropped out, tuned in and turned on. I came to San Francisco for the first time for the Summer of Love and eventually moved there for the gay disco seventies.
In 1953 I was Donnie, a little kid riding his tricycle in Grandview, a small town on the Yakima Indian Reservation. I remember very little from that time except for playing in a field behind our house, collecting grasshoppers in glass jars. We were terribly cruel to those grasshoppers as young boys are prone to be. Although my Mom’s son from her first marriage, Jim, and my Dad’s brother, my uncle Pete, lived with us at the time, I only vaguely remember Pete like a wisp of smoke in a dream. I don’t really remember Jim at all from that time. My Mom had some aunts that lived in the area and they babysat us sometimes and I remember them as stern, very scary women. I remember a cookoo clock on the wall and that’s about it. I remember getting my toes caught in a tricycle wheel when I was a young child but I am not sure if that was in Grandview or Spokane, a few years later.
Me on tricycle in front of Roger’s High School-Spokane
My Mom often told the story of having a restaurant before meeting my Dad after World War II. She would tell how teenagers would come in and would be mixing the ketchup with the mustard and otherwise disruptive and to distract them and bond with them so they would be less problematic, she began reading palms. This caught the imagination of the young kids coming into the restaurant and they seemed more respectful. Mom told of one fortune in which a young girl had lost a ring and had searched everywhere for it. Mom told her that it was at a movie theater in some row and the girl went back there and found the ring. Some of my Mom’s stories became almost mythological in my youth. She seemed to have amazing mystical powers.
The way I remember it, after my Mom met my Dad, she sold her little restaurant in Grandview and they purchased The Pastime tavern but Darlene says that The Pastime was the same restaurant but was just changed into a bar when Dad got a liquor license. Darlene also told me that Dad sold the Pastime and bought into a partnership at the Brunswick in Toppenish without discussing it with my Mom. Apparently his partner was Jack Ladd and I don’t remember anything about him.
Jim Tarbert, being older than both Darlene and I, is probably the best source of information about Grandview. He said:
“Mom was sent to Grandview to work in the train depot there. She soon tired of that, and with the money I think mostly from selling the house and from wherever else, she bought the Candy Kitchen café in Grandview. When she did that she sent for me, [Jim], as I had stayed in Spokane with Grandma. That was in 1943 and I was in the 3rd grade. Ole and Rex also came down and worked with her there. They later moved to Yakima and Rex drove the Arden Ice Cream truck and delivered all over the Yakima Valley all the way to Richland. I used to ride from Grandview to Richland and Pasco with him occasionally.
Jim goes on to say, “In 1945 Mom sold out and bought another restaurant across the street. That was when your Dad and everyone else came home from the war. She married him after a while. He made a tavern out of the place after a long fight for a license, and then they sold that and bought into the Pastime Tavern back over next to where Mom’s original café was.”
My earliest memories of the 1950’s include Eisenhower being President, Sputnik, black and white television. hula hoops and bomb shelters. I remember hearing the word “communists” and having no idea what it meant, very much like so many people to this day that toss the word around. It was a time of Elvis, Fabian, beatniks, Marilyn Monroe, and dance “crazes.” I’m not sure if The Twist and the Mashed Potato were late fifties or early sixties but I do know that I learned them all.
Darlene was the true Elvis fan, although I was a fan too, in the late fifites and early sixties. My favorite star at the time was Jerry Lewis. I also loved The Three Stooges. It is strange how we laugh at different things when we are kids. Now Jerry Lewis and Stooges movies just seem obnoxious, but when I was a kid, they were hysterical.
There were only three television stations to watch back then and so everyone watched the same shows for the most part: “The Wonderful World of Disney,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Shirley Temple’s Storybook,” “Howdy Doody,” “Captain Kangaroo,” “Gunsmoke,” and “You Are There.” Kids everywhere were bewildered why their own dysfunctional families were not more like the familes they saw on “Ozzie and Harriet,” and “Father Know’s Best.” “Old Yeller” and “Lassie” were the favorite dogs of the decade.
Although my Dad and his second wife, Irene, lived on South Beech Street, I always got my mail at The Brunswick at 14 South Toppenish Avenue. The Brunswick was the tavern, restaurant and cigar store that my Dad had bought in Toppenish after he and Mom sold The Pastime. As Darlene said, he was initially in partnership with Jack Ladd but somewhere along the line, probably after Jack died, Dad became the sole owner
There was always a barbershop next door on one side which rented the space from my Dad and there was always a bar on the other side that competed with my Dad.
In those days, to serve alcohol, a tavern in Washington also had to serve food. Dad was always trying to get the elusive license to sell hard liquor but was never able to accomplish this and the Brunswick was destined to only have a license for beer and wine and some gambling. When you first entered the double doors in those days, immediately in front of you was a long aisle that extended to the large back room with the pool tables and then an exit out into the alley.. To your left when entering the building were several restaurant tables and along the right wall was the restaurants counter and then several booths. Beyond the tables on the left when you first entered, there was always the cigarette machine standing outside a small alcove where the door to Dad’s office was. The dark wood bar took up about a third of the left wall. When I was a kid there was always a glass case with cigars and chewing tobacco right across from the cigarette machine. Behind the bar there were always punchboard prizes (punchboards are a form a gambling that was legal in Washington) over the counter where the glasses and cash register were. Mirrors covered that wall and behind that wall were my Dad’s office on one end and storage on the other end..
Men often chewed tobacco in those days and even though there were spittoons available, they often just spat on the floor. I remember there was some kind of red sawdust type substance that was spread on the floor and then swept up to soak up all the spittle and other filth. At the end of the aisle between the restaurant and the bar, there was always a jukebox playing old 45’s- a little bit of country and a little bit of pop. Dad didn’t have a dance license so there was no dancing there. Beyond the bar, the restaurant and the jukebox was the pool room where there were several snooker tables that had all red balls and were larger than regular pool tables. There were also some regular pool tables. I think I remember that Dad had some kind of other game in the bar where you slid a puck down a slick wook surface and hit some kind of bowling type pins.
In my childhood, up until my early teens, it seemed like The Brunswick did pretty good business. Back then it had an eclectic mix of customers including Indians, Mexicans, a few old white farmers, railroad men, and occasionally a black person. Toppenish was on an Indian reservation but it was also agricultural and so there would be an annual influx of Hispanics from Mexico that arrived each year to pick the crops. It seemed that there was often conflict between the Indians and the Hispanics.
Toppenish had a railroad station and the many times I remember arriving there in the middle of the night. Some of those that worked at the station came in The Brunswick. I think that most of the time someone must have met me at the station as I arrived or departed. I was traveling the trains by myself by the time I was seven or eight years old back and forth from Spokane to Toppenish from my Mom to Dad or from Spokane to Palouse from my mom to my Aunt Bert.
Toppenish was divided by railroad tracks and on one end of town there were a few blocks where there were some black families living and even a bar that catered to them. That was all gone by the time I was an adult as were the farmers visiting the Brunswick. As the sugar beet factory closed and the city declined, the only customers left coming to the Brunswick were derelict alcoholic Indians and Hispanics. After my Dad was killed, Darlene remodeled and removed the restaurant and kept the bar going for a few years, but inevetibly the bar declined to the point that it didn’t make business sense to keep it open any longer.
Along the way, as I was growing up I worked in the Brunswick on both the restaurant side as a dishwasher and waiter and the bar side as a bartender. Dad was a pretty miserable boss to work for and even fired me a couple of times. The customers could be rowdy and violent. Roger and Darlene also worked for Dad at different times when he was still alive. I think that Donna, David and Hebert must have had their turns too, although I think I was long out of there by the time they were old enough to work there. Irene was often the cook in the restaurant when it was still in existence and I think she bartender from time to time as well.
The Brunswick was a pretty awful place to work as the customers were mostly poor alcoholics that drank cheap wine and beer. For some years when I was a small child, the restaurant side of it was open twenty four hours a day, but then the hours kept getting cut back. For a while it was just closed for a few hours during the night. There was the old man everyone just called “Eskimo” that was a customer for many years snd sometimes Dad would even let him sleep in the place. A lot of the customers would order beer with tomato juice. Some would sit for hours drinking or fall into a stupor on the bar. I remember one guy that passed out in the soup he had ordered from the restaurant. If someone hadn’t woke him up, he probably would have drowned. There was another old man that always ordered just milk and bread because of his ulcers.
Come two in the morning there was often some drama in the Brunswick. If it wasn’t my Dad and Irene or one of Dad’s other girlfriends creating the drama, it would be a Hispanic looking the wrong way at an Indian or some whore’s boyfriend ojecting to her flirting with other men. Sometimes it would just be one guy tyring to outdo another guy with his machismo. There were also a lot of “misunderstandings” of course. When you have that many people drinking so much alcohol, it is inevitable that people will misunderstand the intentions or words of others. There is also the small town element. In my experience, it seems like small town people will often create drama just to keep life interesting. When there isn’t anything else to do, people often create drama.
My favorite memories of Toppenish almost all have to do with the Pow Wow days of summer. There was the parade down the street in which my sister Donna wore a banner saying “Miss Toppenish.” It seems like she may not have enjoyed it as much as the rest of us did. I think she must have only been in first or second grade at the time and was in a bathing suit with the banner across her chest like a beauty queen. The street dances were the best for me as I always loved to dance. A flatbed truck would appear somewhere and a band would play and kids would dance.
At one Pow Wow street party in the little square in front of the town post office, they actually threw live hens into the audience and I was able to catch one. For a small boy, that was pretty exciting. It wasn’t quite the same as the baby chick but this hen didn’t seem quite so vulnerable a pet and I was excited to have her. I can’t quite remember where it was that I was keeping her but overnight, soon after, she disappeared. I was always suspicious of my Dad possibly taking her and maybe we had her for dinner. I don’t know what ever happened to my pet hen.
I remember walking across town many times to the swimming pool and walking home with a wet bathing suit under my clothes because I found it too humiilating to change clothes in the public changing room. I was extremely modest at that time. I remember how proud I was when I was finally able to overcome this modesty. Most of the time that I was in Toppenish it was in the summer as Mom had us the rest of the year. We would spend most every day at the community swimming pool. Toppenish could get pretty hot in the summer time.
I remember the sugar beet factory and the cannery where most of the people of the town worked at one time. Both closed before I was out of my teens. When I was a kid, it seemed like almost everyone either worked at one of the two places. Kids sometimes went out and picked fruit in the spring and could even get out of school to do so but eventually the migrant farm workers from Mexico took that over. American kids really didn’t want to work that hard in the early sixties and families quit requiring it as people became more affluent.
My father was a sweet man when he was sober but when he was drinking, he could be dangerously violent. He seemed to know that he was an out of control raging alcoholic when he drank, so much of the time he would be fighting his impulses to drink. Sometimes he took antabuse. He was a binge drinker through much of my childhood and the binges could go on for weeks. My stepmother, Irene, often joined him in the binges..
Dad had become involved with Irene when I was still quite small and they had three children, Donna, David and Hebert. Throughout our childhoods, Darlene, Roger and I would usually visit at various times during the year for weeks or sometimes months and usually in the summertime. I liked Irene because she had a sense of humor and made me laugh. My own Mom always seemed so much more serious and stern back then. Maybe part of that was due to her depression over losing the love of her life, my Dad, to Irene. Regardless, Irene’s humor could be dark and she would often say outragious things like telling her kids to go play on the freeway. Of course she didn’t mean it, but for me, it was very funny and different from anyone else I had ever known in my childhood. I really liked Irene’s sardonic sense of humor.
Irene often sent us to Dairy Queen to pick up a dinner of the best footlong hot dogs I have ever had, hamburgers, milkshakes and french fries. This was long before McDonald’s or the other multitude of fast food places that sprang up through the sixties. In Toppenish, there was only Dairy Queen and an A & W Rootbeer stand. A & W had car hops and your food would be brought on a tray that attached to the drivers side window. Dairy Queen was my favorite though. My own mother never took us to such places. It was only on rare occasion that my Mom would let us drink a soda pop and that was usually as a reward for having done something. Irene always had soda pop in the house. When I was in Toppenish, we lived much of the time on either Dairy Queen food or food sent home in a cab from the Brunswick restaurant.
Irene had a freezer filled with steaks and sometimes cooked. She was a good cook and cooked different dishes than my mother did. My favorite dishes that Irene made were what she called “ghoulash” but most people now call “Western Mac,” a combination of elbow macaroni, tomato sauce, hamburger, onion, bellpepper and cheese. She also made a great chicken fried steak accompanied by mashed potatos and cream corn. The steak would have chicken gravy and the mashed potatos would be smothered in the cream corn. It is still one of my favorites. Irene also did a lot of canning in the summer as most women did back in those days.
In my memories, it seems like we were practically starving when we were with Mom, up until she married George McHenry, except when she had a restaurant where we could go eat or when we ate at my aunt and uncles, Ole and Rex’s house. I just don’t remember that we had much of anything. I remember eating rice with milk to fill our stomachs and cinammon toast for dessert. I think there were a lot of time that we went hungry. Mom was always trying to get a business going and I think that most of her resources went into those businesses and I just don’t remember her ever doing much shopping for home. We often didn’t have a car available for transportation and so she would have to wait for Rex or someone else to drive her to a store.
When we were with our Mom we were not allowed to stay up very late but at Dad and Irene’s house the television was on until Johnny Carson signed off and all you could get was snow. In Toppenish, we often fell asleep laying on the carpeted floor in front of the television. My Mom would never allow so much television watching or staying up so late when we were with her. Maybe part of the reason I remember it that way is because we were usually with Mom during the school year and with Dad in the summer so maybe it didn’t matter about staying up late.
Life always seemed so strikingly different between life with Mom and life with Dad. With Mom, you were never sure if there would be food in the house, where at Dad’s house there was an abundance of food all the time. With Mom, we only bought our clothes at the Goodwill or Salvation Army, where at Dad’s everything was bought new. I don’t think Donna, David or Hebert have ever owned clothing from Goodwill or Salvation Army or have been in one unless it was to drop something off there.
With Mom, there was always a sparcity of money for toys and amusements but toys were, by comparison, lavished on Irene’s kids. I guess there was a bit of a sting in that for Darlene, Roger and I. We were aware that Dad was often negligent about sending child support and we were often put in the middle by our Mom to make phone calls to beg him for money. Irene often seemd resentful or jealous of anything material that Darlene, Roger and I did get and would always be obvious and over the top in making sure that her own kids were compensated over and above anything that we might receive. She seemed to be in a material competition with my Mom to see who could provide the most material goods for their children. It seemed like my Mom just wasn’t in the competition at all. Where Irene seemed to think her kids needed everything, my Mom didn’t seem to think we needed much of anything.
In Spokane in those days, there were three network television stations, ABC, NBC and CBS and in Toppenish there were just two.. One was NBC and I know that because that was the channel Johnny Carson was on. It seems like Bonanza was often on at my Dad’s house when I was growing up.. I think that Toppenish was on UHF and Spokane was on VHF.
Irene was also a binge drinker and she and my Dad would create binges of hell for the rest of us when they were both drinking. In all my later years of working in adult psychiatry, I never saw any insanity that compared to the insanity and mayhem that took place in my Dad and Irene’s house on Beech Street in Toppenish when they were drinking. When two o’clock came and the bars closed, they would arrive home screaming and swearing at one another. “You God-damned son-of-bitch!” Irene would scream. Dad would knock her against the wall. She would throw knives at him trying to kill him or bite him so hard on the arm that it would draw blood and he would carry the scar the rest of his life. Donna, David and Hebert through their toddler years and childhoods would be up screaming too and begging them to stop and begging Darlene, Roger or I to make them stop but there would be no stopping until they passed out from sheer exhaustion.
Sometimes Irene would stop drinking ahead of Dad and then we were all trying to get him to stop. Irene mostly drank beer where Dad drank hard liquor. I remember pouring out some of his whiskey and adding water to it to dilute it in hopes that he wouldn’t get as drunk and as crazy and violent. In those days in Washington, you could only buy hard liquor at state run liquor stores and you couldn’t buy alcohol at all on Sundays. If you forgot to buy your liquor on Saturday, you could find yourself in withdrawals on Sunday.
Dad smoked Camel’s and Irene smoked Pall Mall’s. Everybody seemed to smoke in those early days but I couldn’t tell you what my Mom smoked. I think she must not have smoked or quit smoking when I was pretty young. I know Ole smoked menthols and Rex smoked a pipe or cigars. I think he smoked cigarettes too- Lucky’s, if I remember correctly.
I remember my aunt Billie and uncle Joe smoking at one time but I think they quit when I was pretty young too. Filters on ciggarettes were popular but Dad and Irene took their tobacco straight. They bought them by the carton and each of them must have smoked about a pack a day. I think Dad was still smoking when he was shot and Irene might have quit at some point when it was way too late to make much difference. When I started smoking at thirteen years at age, I remember distinctly that I started smoking Camels as they were easily accessible in the house and although it is so cliche, I definately started smoking to look “cool.” I was thirteen and I think I had already been kicked out of school in Escondido and had started school in Toppenish and since I was new to the school and already considered a “bad boy,” cigarettes were just another part of the affectation.
Dad was always a womanizer and a handsome man and seemed to have no problem finding women that wanted to spend a little time with him. Alcohol and womanizing would eventually be the death of him. literally. At one point in my teens or early twenties, I remember that he was carousing with a woman half his age and there was some drama that ocurred in The Brunswich, in which he got the rifle out of his office and shot her and my understanding is that she lost use of her arm. It was always a mystery to me how it was that he could shoot someone and never serve a day behind bars but that was my Dad. Roger and Donna remember that whole thing. Roger says that he was actually at the bar that night when she came in and Dad got the shotgun from his office and Roger said that he shot her arm off. Donna cleared up the mystery of what eventually happened to the woman when she told me the story of how she died in a car accident which was kind of convenient for my Dad. To this day, we suspect that my dad may have had something to do with that car accident that killed her.
Dad’s third wife would be the one to kill HIM. By September of 1979, I was working at Saint Francis Hospital in San Francisco as a Licensed Psychiatric Technician. Shirley, a lesbian from Austin, Texas, was the charge nurse that day. She came and found me working on the unit with patients and asked me to come into the back corridor of offices with her. We went into one of the little rooms where the doctors met with their patients and sat down. I thought I had done something wrong as she looked so serious. She came out with it quickly. “Your father has been shot… ” Shock went through me. “…and he is dead.” I insisted “No!!” and knew that it was true and broke down sobbing as she sat with me. It took me some time to compose myself and I left work to go home and make arrangements to fly to Washnngton for his funeral.
Deanna was the woman that Dad eventually left Irene for. She was about the same age as Darlene. I only met Deanna once or twice. My understanding is that she was another alcoholic and they created a lot more alcoholic drama together. He would hit her with his fists. She would hit him with a baseball bat. They abused each other with passion. I guess she made him feel young, though. The last time I saw him, he had his hair an unnatural looking jet black which I believed was her influence.
The story that I heard later of his death is that Deanna had taken a lover and the lover gave her the gun that she used to shoot my Dad. They were not actually fighting at the time. My understanding is that he and a friend of his were sitting at the kitchen table one evening and Deanna came into the kitchen and said “you son of a bitch” and shot him dead. I believe it was David and/or Hebert that cleaned up the blood that was left on the floor after they took him away. Deanna pleaded “victim of abuse” and served a few months in a psychiatric facility and essentially got away with murder… but it was probably inevitable. There was always way too much alchohol, gambling and women for my Dad to have died of old age. One of his vices was bound to get him eventually. As crazy as he was, I believe all his kids loved him and grieved his passing when he died.
Dad had a back woods, Arkansas, fundamentalist Baptist viewpoint of women. In one intimate father-son moment from my childhood, I remember being in a car with my Dad and he was on a drunken tirade about women. “Women are devils” he said. He reminded me of the story of Eve giving Adam the apple. “Women are evil… they lie and cheat… except your mother.” Then he turned on a dime and sang the praises of Mom even though they had long been divorced. Then he would cry.
I often found it curious throughout my life that many straight men would appear to not actually like women at all. I have often known straight men that would talk about how much they loved sex with women but did not like women otherwise. Straight men that I knew growing up often seemed to prefer the company of their buddies to the company of women. I have never pretended to understand straight men or heterosexual relationships.
By the school year of 1956, when I was five years old, my Mom and Darlene, Roger and I were living on Providence Street in Spokane. My mother had three sisters, Ole, Billie and Hank that lived in Spokane and her brother, Deb, lived nearby. I suppose she went there for support after being devastated by the break up of her marriage. I am not sure if my father had met Irene by this time. For the next several years, I don’t think we lived in any one place for more than six months at a time.
I remember very little from this time period. I know that I got mumps at some point when I was in kindergarten.
I remember still believing in Santa Claus and watching for him to come flying across the sky on Christmas Eve. I remember that I cried on my first day of Kindergarten and was terrified to be left there. In kindergarten, I think we finger painted and played with toys. It seemed like it was very far from home but in reality, I think it was probably less than a block away. I don’t remember any of the other kids from my class picture or my teacher or any other details really. I don’t remember having any understanding of why my father wasn’t living with us anymore or how we had come to move to Spokane. We were just on Providence for brief time I think.